national merit student

Photo: Staci Dawne Photography


Tessa describes herself as a percussionist, math and science enthusiast and a missionary who loves spreading the gospel and visiting faraway countries. She started school as a kindergartner at Lamar and has had an enriching academic career in GISD schools.

“I love to do things that challenge me,” she said. “All along, I’ve had teachers who pushed me and guided me and, most of all, taught me the value of work ethic. One of my favorite memories is learning to play cello in Suzuki Strings, which I played from third through sixth grade. The instrument was almost as big as I was, and I had such an awesome experience learning to grow as a musician. I also played guitar and piano, but the drums are my favorite. They’re so cool, and even though it’s hard to describe how or why, I feel like I’m using the same part of my brain that I use for math. I guess it’s the rhythm.”

Tessa had the same math teacher — Stephani Olenski — for four years.

“Mrs. Olenski was the teacher who really made math come to life for me,” she said. “Then when I tried robotics in high school, I figured out that the 45-degree angle was the optimum angle for projecting things, which was our focus. And the only way to get the angle right and program it in was to use a lot of math. And make a lot of mistakes. And figure it out again.”

Tessa’s teachers said she’s not only a great student — she’s also a great teacher.

“I had Tessa in PreAP Chemistry. She has such an amazing work ethic and her strength in math definitely helped her understand chemistry,” GHS chemistry teacher Anne Thornton said. “Tessa has a servant’s heart in that she loves to help others. It was not uncommon for her to help students in chemistry understand dimensional analysis, which is an abstract concept that students often struggle to understand. She is an amazing young woman who will do great things.”

Olenski added: “I am very proud of Tessa. She makes a goal and works hard to achieve it. Take the AP Physics exam for example. Tessa lost her teacher at mid-year and literally coached herself, and she did very well.”

A section leader in drumline, Tessa says she enjoys the range of experiences that percussion instruments offer, from firing up the football crowd with drums to exploring the enchanting voice of the marimba.

“When we went to the state competition, I got to play the marimba for one of the best marimba players in Texas,” she said. “It was an awesome experience. But, in the end, as Mr. Weisberg always says, it’s about work ethic and being part of a family. I get up at 6:30 every morning and go to practice. We all pile on a bus together to go to state competitions. I just love being in band. That may be the thing I will miss the most.”

GHS Director of Bands Joel Weisberg had this to say:

“It has been an honor and pleasure to watch Tessa grow up in the band program. To see her self-confidence, leadership, and pride grow over the past six years makes me extremely proud. If the future of our world is in the hands of the youth of today – we’re in SUPERIOR hands with Tessa Mitchell!”

Tessa’s third passion is for mission work, where she and other members of the Awe Star mission group at Highland Terrace Baptist Church have taken anywhere from a week to a month to go on mission trips to Peru, Panama and Mexico.

“It’s been wonderful seeing different parts of the world, meeting all kinds of people, and sharing my faith,” Tessa said. “It’s made me want to explore the world even more.”

Naomi Gilbert, now assistant principal at Greenville Middle School, had Tessa in her fourth-grade class. Even then, she said Tessa’s love for helping her fellow students was evident.

“She was a model student the moment she walked into my fourth-grade classroom. She is dependable and was always willing to help others. Her smile will light up a room, and I am so thankful for the time I spent with her.”

Tessa is planning to study applied mathematics at the University of Texas at Dallas next year.

We’re proud of you, Tessa, and cannot wait to see your bright future unfold!

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